Beat the Devil (film)

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For the short film starring James Brown and Gary Oldman, see Beat the Devil.
Beat the Devil
Beat The Devil - 1953 - poster.png
1953 film poster
Directed by John Huston
Produced by John Huston
Screenplay by John Huston
Truman Capote
Based on Beat the Devil
1951 novel 
by Claud Cockburn (as James Helvick)
Starring Humphrey Bogart
Jennifer Jones
Gina Lollobrigida
Peter Lorre
Robert Morley
Edward Underdown
Ivor Barnard
Marco Tulli
Bernard Lee
Saro Urzì
Music by Franco Mannino
Cinematography Oswald Morris
Edited by Ralph Kemplen
Distributed by British Lion Films (UK)
United Artists (USA)
Release dates
24 November 1953
Running time
89 min.
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Box office £115,926 (UK)[1]
Beat the Devil

Beat the Devil is a 1953 film directed by John Huston.[2] The screenplay was by Huston and Truman Capote, loosely based upon a novel of the same name by British journalist Claud Cockburn, writing under the pseudonym James Helvick. It is a parody of Huston's The Maltese Falcon (1941) and films of the same genre.

The script, which was written on a day-to-day basis as the film was being shot,[citation needed] concerns the adventures of a motley crew of swindlers and ne'er-do-wells trying to lay claim to land rich in uranium deposits in Kenya as they wait in a small Italian port to travel aboard an ill-fated tramp steamer en route to Mombasa.[3] The cast includes Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, and Bernard Lee.


Billy Dannreuther (Humphrey Bogart) is a formerly-wealthy American who has fallen on hard times. He is reluctantly working with four crooks: Peterson (Robert Morley), ex-Nazi Julius O'Hara (Peter Lorre), Major Jack Ross (Ivor Barnard) and Ravello, who are trying to acquire uranium-rich land in British East Africa. Billy suspects that Major Ross has murdered a British Colonial officer who had threatened to expose their plan. While waiting in Italy for passage to Africa, Billy and his wife Maria (Gina Lollobrigida) make the acquaintance of a British couple: Harry (Edward Underdown) and Gwendolen Chelm (Jennifer Jones), who are planning to travel on the same ship. Harry is a very proper and traditional Englishman, while Gwendolen is flighty and fanciful and a compulsive liar. Billy and Gwendolen have an affair, while Maria flirts with Harry. Peterson becomes suspicious that the Chelms may be attempting to acquire the uranium themselves. His suspicians are unfounded, but they seem to him to be confirmed by Gwendolen, who lies about her husband and exaggerates his importance.

Billy and Peterson are involved in a car accident and wrongly reported to have been killed. In order to replace Peterson's lost capital, Ravello approaches Harry Chelm and explains their scheme. Just then, to everyone's surprise, Billy and Peterson return to the hotel alive and unharmed. The purser announces that the ship is at last ready to sail. On board, Harry reveals that he knows about Peterson's scheme and intends to inform the authorities. Peterson orders Major Ross to kill Harry; however, Billy thwarts the murder attempt. Harry's outraged accusations alienate the ship's drunken captain, who locks Harry in the brig, where he is uncomfortable but safe from Major Ross.

The ship's engine malfunctions and the ship sinks. When Billy goes to free Harry he finds that Harry has escaped and left the ship, intending to swim ashore. The passengers abandon the sinking ship in a lifeboat and land on an African beach, where they are arrested by Arab soldiers. They are interrogated by Ahmed, an Arab official who suspects that they may be spies or revolutionaries. Billy makes friends with Ahmed by talking with him about Rita Hayworth, upon whom Ahmed has a crush. Billy persuades him to send the party back to Italy. When they land, they are met and questioned by a Scotland Yard detective (Bernard Lee), who is investigating the murder of the Colonial officer. Gwendolen reveals Peterson's scheme, and his involvement in the murder, and his attempt to have Harry murdered, to the detective, who promptly arrests Peterson, O'Hara, Major Ross, and Ravello. As the four crooks are led away in handcuffs, Gwendolen receives a telegram from British East Africa saying that Harry has himself acquired the land Peterson and the others had meant to steal and is now extremely rich and willing to forgive Gwendolen, Billy, and Maria. Billy laughs happily and the movie ends.



In a review coinciding with the film's release to 68 New York metropolitan area theaters, The New York Times called it a "pointedly roguish and conversational spoof, generally missing the book's bite, bounce and decidedly snug construction."[4]

Humphrey Bogart never liked the movie, perhaps because he lost a good deal of his own money bankrolling it, and said of Beat the Devil, "Only phonies like it."[citation needed] Roger Ebert, who included the film in his "Great Movies" list, notes that the film has been characterized as the first camp movie.[5] In the biographical film dramas Infamous (2006) and Capote (2005), Truman Capote, portrayed respectively by Toby Jones and Philip Seymour Hoffman, reminisces about life during the filming of Beat the Devil.

Peter Sellers[edit]

During the filming of Beat the Devil, Humphrey Bogart lost several of his teeth in a real-life car accident. Peter Sellers, then a young, unknown actor with a talent for imitating voices, was hired to dub some of Bogart's lines while Bogart was adjusting to the loss of his teeth and unable to speak clearly.[6]

Notable lines[edit]

  • "Time. Time. What is time? Swiss manufacture it. French hoard it. Italians squander it. Americans say it is money. Hindus say it does not exist. Do you know what I say? I say time is a crook!" --O'Hara.
  • "It smokes, it drinks, it philosophizes!" --Billy.


  1. ^ Vincent Porter, 'The Robert Clark Account', Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol 20 No 4, 2000 p501
  2. ^ "Beat the Devil (1953)". MRQE. Retrieved 1 June 2012. 
  3. ^ "Beat the Devil (1953)". Rotten tomatoes. Retrieved 1 June 2012. 
  4. ^ H. H. T. (March 13, 1954). "Beat the Devil City-Wide Debut". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-12-01. 
  5. ^ Ebert, Roger (November 26, 2000). "Beat the Devil". Retrieved 2013-08-20. 
  6. ^

External links[edit]